Sugarman, J. and McKenna, W. G. Ethical Hurdles in Translational Research. Radiat. Res. 160, 1–4 (2003).
The notion of translational research has gained considerable currency over the past few years. While such an approach promises great scientific and clinical advances, the penumbra of translational research tends to incorporate prioritizing scientific projects based upon their potential for translation; tight financial connections between sponsors, scientists and clinical investigators; and sometimes research involving biological approaches for which there is little experience determining safety. It is these aspects of translational research that raise some serious ethical challenges. In this report, we examine three specific areas that raise ethical questions: (1) the potential implications of prioritizing research objectives based on the potential for translation; (2) cautions related to moving from bench to bedside (and back again); and (3) unique questions for translational research initiatives in academic medical centers. Based on this examination, it is clear that the financial and ethical costs as well as benefits of taking a translational approach need to be considered. In the meantime, exquisite attention needs to be paid whenever translational research is likely to affect the traditional fiduciary responsibilities of scientists, clinicians and institutions to research subjects, patients and students. Successful mechanisms that might be developed to address any untoward effects should be shared and evaluated.